How to love your enemies
As I was praying through this fruit of the Spirit in preparation for the session in our live Bible Study group, I sensed a whisper of the Holy Spirit saying 'it's time to fall in love with Love again'. I asked Him 'what does that mean, Lord?' thinking the reply would be something heart-warming and beautiful and then I was suddenly reminded of Revelation 2:4:
"But I have this complaint against you. You don't love me or each other as you did at first!".
These terrifying words are spoken over the Church and should make every Christian re-evaluate their levels of love towards other Christians, and Christ Himself... but also our enemies. This certainly made me sit up and pray afresh that my love would increase- not just to the people I love, because let's be honest - that is easy - but to the people who I struggle with, the people I can't fathom out, the people who don't like me. My enemies.
The Ultimate Definition Of Love
It's wonderful to hear this portion of 1 Corinthians read out at a wedding as bride and groom gaze lovingly into one anothers' eyes with huge hopes and expectations of the joy their happy union will bring them both.....
But could you gaze into the eyes of someone who hates you, persecutes you, and still be patient, kind, not easily angered, rejoicing with truth....
This is where our perception of what God's kind of 'love' is, really comes off the rails.
I remember when I fist became a Christian and I felt like I could take on the whole world with the love that was bursting out of my heart...... so much so that that even my enemies would surely be instantly turned to Jesus as I loved them as He does. As time goes by, we all get a bit too focused on loving those in our inner circle. We spend our time and effort wanting to grow relationships with people we like - and who like us. We're into inward, soft love that serves our own needs. We're not as quick to pursue the kind of outward, missional love that risks everything to see God's kind of love reach everyone.
Easy Love Is Easy - Hard Love Is Hard
There is easy love - and there is hard love. God Himself chose hard love. As we seek to grow in the fruit of the Spirit - becoming more like Jesus, this hard love is what we must pursue.
"For God so love the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever shall believe in Him shall not perish but shall have everlasting life (John 3:16)
Whosoever. That means everyone, anyone, who decides to believe that Christ dies for their sins and rose again will be with Him, and you, in Heaven. God's qualifying criteria contains no references to good works, niceness, kindness, church attendance, generosity or any of the other soft love actions that we tend to focus on as Christians. Isn't that mind-blowing? The criteria for God's redeeming love is faith in Him.
The love God expects of us, our mission, is clear: "And he said unto them, Go into all the world.. and as you go into all the world, proclaim the gospel to everyone." (Matthew 16:15)
Not those who are nice to you.
Not those who show good behavior,
Not those who can give you something in return.
No one deserves this kind of radical love - not you, not me, no one.
It was God's decision alone. It is His astounding Grace. This is the kind of hard love is what the Holy Spirit wants to cultivate in us. Challenged yet? I am. Again.
Easy love is the love you feel for the ones that are precious and lovely to you; your husband, your children, your family, your friends, your church.. but the truth is - anyone can love people who are good and loving to them. We don't need the Holy Spirit to help us with that kind of love.....
We need His Spirit to help us do hard love.
Jesus directly taught us: "But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." Matthew 5:44
What Does God Require Of Me?
God's Agenda is fueled by love for all His creation - not just the nice bits. We are so fickle and find our hearts and minds screaming when we know we should turn the other cheek, forgive, reach out, show kindness, be Jesus to those who don't 'deserve' it. And you're right, they don't. That's not in dispute.
The problem is - you and I didn't deserve God's love either. So if we're serious about this grace we've been given.. if we truly want to grow in the fruit of the Spirit, then we are going to have to get good at hard love. God's kind of love.
Proverbs 25:21 says "If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat; and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink."
You don't have to like them. You are not required to approve of, or even understand, their behavior or choices. You don't have to have any affectionate feelings towards them whatsoever; but you must love them like Jesus loves them. You must serve them, sacrificially even. You must not exclude them from our mission to love and bring good news.
This is hard love.
There is easy love - and there is hard love. God Himself chose hard love. Which will you pursue?
Of course we will never stop loving the people that are embedded in our hearts. And that's absolutely right. But the challenge in growing in the fruit of the Spirit is to grow in hard love.
Right now, I can think of at least 3 people who I find hard to really love - and I don't mean the warm squishy, affectionate kind of love - I mean the kind of love where I include them, and share with them, and offer them proverbial - or literally - food and water from my kitchen. These are people I don't understand and I'm not even sure how I can serve them - but I will try. Not because I love them, but because God loves them.
Pray and ask God to show you at least one person who you need to practice hard love with. Reach out to them, somehow, and include them, bless them, pray for them, serve them.
How To Love Your Enemies
We don't have to wait for any motivating 'feelings' to do this because the amazing things about hard love is that there is something the Bible calls 'compassion'. Compassion is often seen as a soft love - but it is in fact the foundation of enabling us to love hard.
Compassion is what moves us to stop and turn, out of our way, off the beaten track, to help someone who wasn't on our love list today. Compassion is a purposeful emotion that moves us to act against our instincts and reach out because of a deep yearning to bring God's love and justice to those who need it the most. To feel compassion is to look upon a soul that is lost, hurting, acting out - and desire God's redeeming love to rescue them - just as He rescued you.
No one puts it better than the great Charles Spurgeon:
"He was moved with compassion."—Matthew 9:36.
"This is said of Christ Jesus several times in the New Testament. The original word is a very remarkable one. It is not found in classic Greek. It is not found in the Septuagint. They did not find one in the whole Greek language that suited their purpose, and therefore they had to make one. It is expressive of the deepest emotion; a striving of the bowels—a yearning of the innermost nature with pity... when our Saviour looked upon certain sights, those who watched him closely perceived that his internal agitation was very great, his emotions were very deep, and then his face betrayed it, his eyes gushed like founts with tears, and you saw that his big heart was ready to burst with pity for the sorrow upon which his eyes were gazing. He was moved with compassion. His whole nature was agitated with commiseration for the sufferers before him."
So, as you pray to increase and abound in LOVE - pray for compassion. Compassion for the unlovely. Compassion for the excluded. Compassion for the people who have not yet met their Redeemer.
Open up your heart - big and wide - and let God fill you and stretch you and urge you into acts of hard love - seek to abound in compassion.
Let your hard love flow to 'whosoever' - because God first loved you.
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